Let’s Discuss — Wild Seed by Octavia Butler

He would have to teach her, instruct her quickly and begin using her at once. He wanted as many children as he could get from her before it became necessary to kill her. Wild seed always had to be destroyed eventually. It could never conform as children born among his people conformed (85) 

So…after reading this book I have questions.

Who is Anyanwu exactly?

Is she an immortal demigod? A “strong, black woman”?*

What are her values? How does she make her decisions? And why does she let the things that happen to her in this story come to pass?

A week ago I jokingly said this reflection would be a series of questions, but now that I’m writing it, I realize I was only half-joking. I do have many questions. And I have many questions because there were many inconsistencies in this book.

I’ll focus briefly on Doro and Anyanwu’s relationship**.

Doro is a jerk***. Point blank. One day he swings by Anyanwu’s place, picks her up, promises her some things, she goes willingly, and then Doro reneges on those promises. Sound familiar? Well this doesn’t just happen once or twice. It happens all the time, over what?—two hundred years?! C’mon…

Seriously. I understand Doro is powerful and controlling and manipulative. However, Anyanwu is powerful in her own right. She and Doro are equals in my mind. But where they are uneven are their motivations.

Doro wants to build a race of immortal and unique beings just like him. To do this, he initiates selective breeding of groups of people across the globe and over generations. With this goal he handpicks Anyanwu, but she is “wild seed.” Or in Doro’s mind, she cannot be controlled…easily. But I beg to differ, he controls Anyanwu quite easily. Too easily. He threatens her children and her children’s children. And her children’s children’s children. So Anyanwu, being the mother she is, does what he tells her. For someone with her strength and life experience it was confusing and downright disappointing to read of Anyanwu’s abuse.

But back to this talk of motivations. I tried to take myself out of it and understand. I don’t need to relate with a character to enjoy a book, I just need to understand why they do the things they do. And for the life of me, I couldn’t make sense of her decisions. She didn’t want to procreate with her husband’s son, but she did it anyways. She didn’t want to share her husband with other women, but she did it anyways. She didn’t want to believe Doro, but she did anyways. If Anyanwu was that committed to her community and her children why didn’t she try to eliminate Doro? If Anyanwu truly hated Doro (and she did, the book made this very clear from beginning to end) why have his children? Why show him love, or lust, or humanity? If Anyanwu found solace and freedom living among the animals as an animal (i.e. dolphins) why not remain as one? Why participate in systematic breeding and culling?

I wasn’t looking for a happy ending, or a textbook heroine. I just needed things to be interesting and to make sense. In the right context, “wild seed” might imply an inability to be tamed, or some degree of unpredictability. It might also reference a different or unknown gene pool. But Anyanwu was more like a dandelion seed, going wherever the wind takes it.

*I didn’t have this image in my mind as I read, however, I was constantly wondering when Anyanwu would become a dynamic character–when she would show character development and maybe become said image or not.

** I have another interpretation where Doro and Anyanwu’s relationship is a twist on Adam and Eve…but that’s another conversation for another day.

***Even Doro’s character had inconsistencies. Ex: When he sleeps with Anyanwu’s daughter — way too self-serving, even for Doro. Ex: When he’s begging Anyanwu to live and bargaining his terms of future breeding and enslavement with Anyanwu (like what?!)